August 17, 2008...9:48 pm

Don’t be that guy

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We hear the phrase, “don’t be that guy,” a lot in social media circles, but there are a lot of those guys still running around trying to shout their message in an endless game of virtual whack-a-mole every time something pops up on their news alerts, in a blog post or Twitter stream when it seems relevant to what they are promoting and/or selling.

Rather than actually listening, they rush to the scene to promote and/or contradict statements they feel run counter to their messaging. They leave comments on everyone’s blog – often rehashed statements that read eerily similar to other comments left elsewhere. Thinly veiled comments that seem designed to deliver a pitch.

Stop it.

People are posting ideas and generating conversations here, and your pseudo-comment-that-is-really-a-pitch adds nothing to the discussion.

If I’m looking for a particular solution, I’ll ask for it in the post.

If I’m writing about something you think your product would solve, send me an e-mail. I’m in PR, I understand that pitching is part of the business. Pitch me, but don’t be rude.

Are you that guy? Here are 5 things that guy does to inspire hatred and annoyance in social media circles:

  1. Set up a Twitter account and tweet about your product/blog/website/agenda more than 50 percent of the time.
  2. Post comments on blogs with the sole purpose of promoting your product – Bonus points for adding extra links to your product/blog/website/agenda.
  3. Keep all communication professional. Don’t bother engaging in conversation that is irrelevant to your professional agenda, keep your motivations secret and avoid offering personal opinions. After all, your opinions may differ from those you’re trying to pitch.
  4. Quickly dismiss all posts that might be considered negative as being uninformed or lacking in information. Contradict the author, but make no attempt to clarify or offer an explanation that might be helpful for the discussion.
  5. Wait to get involved in social media until your product is ready to launch or has already launched. Don’t get involved in social networks until you have your strategy outlined since you won’t know who you should be targeting.

When you do these things, you embarrass yourself and tarnish the reputation of what it is you are actually trying to promote.

If you have read the above list and realize that you are indeed that guy, please know it’s not too late to change your ways. Here are 5 steps to get you on the road to recovery:

  1. Fess up. We all make mistakes. People engaged in social media usually respect others’ ability to be human. Part of being human is admitting your mistakes. Simply take your lumps and change your ways.
  2. Be human all the time. This is tough to explain, but be the same dorky, lovable, flawed person you are with your friends and family. Hey, they like you, or at least tolerate you. Others probably will, too, within reason. Remember; relationships come first.
  3. Build relationships in social networks before you actually need them. Don’t wait until you’re ready to launch a product or find yourself out of work to start reaching out to people in social networks. That’s like meeting someone for the first time at a party and asking them to loan you money.
  4. Learn to take criticism. Listen first and address what your critics have to say without being immediately contradictory in your response. Acknowledge your detractors, admit your shortcomings and work on putting forth a real solution or explanation.
  5. Promote others often — even if they don’t promote you. If you think somebody has cool ideas or does a great job at generating discussion, point them out. Promote them for no reason other than you respect what they do. Tell everyone how great they are.

The bottom line for me is that I am not blogging so you can come along and pretend to be engaged with the subject matter only to pitch my readers or me. I do not put the time and effort into writing posts and maintaining a site during my free time so that you can have a free platform to promote. It’s doubtful that anyone else is either.

I blog to sharpen my own opinions, deepen my skills for creating online content and to develop relationships with others. I also blog to learn from others, validate my own inklings and work through ideas I may be wrong about.

Nothing I’ve said here is new. Others have said this, and continue to say it, better than me. Don’t just take my word for it, here are some other great explanations to help you avoid being that guy:

Ogilvy 360’s Blogger Outreach Code of Ethics

Jim Tobin in Social Media Today (Schmoozing vs Connecting): Social Media Mistakes and How to Avoid Them (2 of 6)

Also, Chris Brogan sums it up beautifully in this short video:

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  • Steps 2-5 are more than just “recovery” steps – that should be required reading for anyone delving into Twitter. These are things I try to explain to people who don’t “get” it. Excellent summary, Shannon :)

  • Hi. I found your blog exciting . can we communicate with each other?
    My mail is

  • Shannon, amen! All companies should *listen* to this. Maybe read the Recovery Tips before they even get started? Then they won’t need them later as an antidote.

    I see too often on Twitter employees that tweet constantly/consistently about their company (look what *we* did, a webinar with *our* company, *we* are in the news again, etc.). You don’t know anything about them except where they work. Even when they are trying to personable they somehow manage to squeeze their company name into the tweet. They are “those guys/girls” and they don’t even know it. They need to read your post, pronto(!!), before everyone starts tuning them out.

    One-way conversation is of no value to the community and is…interruptive. People want to engage with people, not companies. Like Chris said, you wouldn’t stand around with your friends talking like that, so why do it on Twitter, Plurk or other social networks?

    Also, I think it’ll take time for corporate types to disengage from the ‘professional’ shield and to “be human all the time.” I know I have struggled with it. It’s hard to let down your guard when you know it’s permanent in the Blogosphere. But, the fact is, we are who we are and whether it’s online or in person, our personalities come through.

    Thanks for bringing this to the forefront, it’s much appreciated.


  • Wow, This was a healthily does of medicine this morning. When working with personal development there was a saying If you spot it you got, and if it evoked some sort of emotion, perhaps you should look at that. Certainly did all of that for me Shannon, and I will be more aware going forward. Thanks for your candor.

  • @Brian and @Beth – I agree with you that steps 2 – 5 of the recovery list should probably be taught before people jump into using social media to promote anything.

    @Beth – Great insight and perfect examples of how *that* guy always inserts his agenda into the conversation. You’re right; it is interruptive. I also realize that being human all the time is a very new approach to doing business — in fact, it’s the complete opposite from what most people have been taught. It’s hard to work against that kind of lifelong conditioning. You make great points, as always.

    @Eric – I was totally blown away by what you had to say. I always fear that I’ll be preaching to the choir when I write something like this and wonder if it will do any good. Your comment made my day. Thank you for that.

  • I love truth. This is truth. Brutal- but honest. and we all probably have had some of the above situations, This is a wake up call for the SM world. If you simply promote great stuff and wait and let others promote your stuff — if it’s really worth it-then you will fall within the guidelines of this post. Hot post -and total truth. THANKS for the alarm clock to awake us all-Social Media Anonymous-5 steps to recovery here!

  • I use to see more use of Twitter for self-promotion (only messages promoting ones blog) more often in the late spring/early summer than I do now. Or maybe I’ve just stopped following “those” guys/girls.

    I actually see Twitter as a valid business tool. If someone is a nonstop advertisement for their business, I’ll just stop following them. I prefer a mix of personal & professional posts as well as a mix of comments & responses…to much of one or the other gets more than a bit monotonous.

  • This is so true. I really appreciated this post and agree with it wholeheartedly.

    But, then again, it’s important not to be the Other Guy, either.

    He’s the one who takes whatever you’ve written as intensely personal, written just for him. And he’s a bit of a stalker.

    He refreshes your site throughout the day, multiple times an hour. Even when you haven’t posted in a couple of weeks. He’s the first to have a comment on every post, but not even in the comments, but rather via personal e-mail.

    The e-mail asks a bunch of questions, the answer to each of which would be a full blog post. Which would be great if it were on topic or even something you’d be willing to write about.

    But instead, the questions ask you to give advice and share personal information (or read about his personal information) in an intrusive and inappropriately intimate way. Or engage in political debate off-line via e-mail or Twitter, when you’ve carefully avoided politics in your blog.

    He’s the one playing guessing games about your identity.

    The Other Guy is the first one to notice that the kitchen counter in the background of a picture in a tutorial you post has been updated. And, while it’s great to get the compliments on the remodel, it’s a bit spooky to have someone comment about it when it hadn’t been mentioned anywhere.

    That Guy might not care one whit about you, but the Other Guy cares a bit too much.

    If only we could get the two of them together. They’d make a great (if creepy) couple.

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  • One problem: “That guy” often has no idea that he is “that guy.” Some are in a such state of denial about their “that guy” status that they’d need an intervention to see it. So, why beat around the bush? What’s wrong with telling somebody to their face that they are in fact “that guy?”

  • @Doug – I think you’re right that promoting others is key to building your network. But hasn’t that always been true offline, too? That guy has always been around, in my opinion that approach just works even less in social media since people don’t feel the same kind of pressure to be nice that they do in person.

    @Juggling Frogs – Your description of the other guy chilled me to the core. I really haven’t had that kind of experience, but I will consider myself warned.

    @Andrew – You’re right; that guy usually doesn’t know that he’s that guy. In cases like that, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with an intervention, but even bold interventions don’t necessarily lead to recovery. If his tactics at promotion continue to fail however, he may go looking for answers. Why not work to ensure that he has a lot of helpful information to reference at that time?

  • Jonathan Joseph

    Can I disagree completely with this post? I’m not advocating spam, but I’m also don’t buy that there is a “right way” to participate in social media. If you are a Z-lister, almost no one’s listening to your “human” side anyway.

    While I somewhat agree with the premise of “Don’t Spam”, I find the rest of the post completely disingenuous (and I don’t mean for Chris or Shannon to take that personally).

    Brogan floods his blog with top 10 lists and social media how-to’s which are straight out of marketing/copyrighting school for attracting traffic. He’s selling his personal brand but there’s no question that he is “selling” more than 50% of the time.

    And it’s his suggestion that Guy Kawasaki “isn’t that guy” that completely nullifies the argument. Guy is a shameless, shameless promoter of Alltop and Truemors and the overwhelming majority of his tweets are links to Alltop. Robert Scoble, a king of social media, is another shameless self promoter.

    Sorry, but this post assumes that social media is a level playing field. It is in theory but not yet in practice.

  • @Jonathan – You raise some interesting points and I’m very grateful for your comment.

    Honestly, I haven’t really thought about this in the sense that there’s a right way or a wrong way to participate in social media, but there is a way to interact with people that is, well, more social and more likely to help build one’s network.

    There’s also a way to interact with others in social media environments that reflects good etiquette. Although, one might argue that etiquette in general is disingenuous since it places generally accepted mores and behaviors above that of individual wants or motivations, but I digress.

    Chris may be promoting his personal brand, but he also promotes a lot of other people and posts, (including this one), speaks for free at events and is generally very helpful to others. Lists may be classified as linkbait, but they’re also useful and easy to read. I can’t answer for him as to which one motivates him more, but people like lists.

    Also, ironically, you describe Guy’s promotion of Alltop as being self-promotion, but doesn’t Alltop ultimately promote other peoples’ blogs? Similar things could be said of Scoble.

    None of these people is perfect. In fact, they are all quite human in their approach to their work and interaction with others in social media environments.

    And, for the record, I don’t believe in the existence of level playing fields in social media or anywhere else. Level playing fields only exist in theory – never in practice.

  • We are all shameless self promoters of our brand or our opinion or of any other part of our being that we want people to see and hear and understand.

    I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that. But let’s face it, the guy standing on the street corner yelling out his opinion is called a crazy person. The same guy doing it in a blog is called a social media expert.


  • Love it. Luckily for you, I have absolutely nothing to promote! :)

  • The beauty of social media is that there are no rules. Of course being engaging and real, honestly interacting with others is going to come across to a wide audience in a more palatable way.
    As in other types of media, don’t follow, read or watch what you don’t like. To request that others follow your prescription for interaction is in itself a bit self-promoting.
    It amazes me that newly minted experts on social media think this is all figured out. It isn’t. You just like what you like. So do I. So does everyone else. Believe it or not, some users of Twitter or Facebook aren’t interested in interaction, just a one way dialogue. That’s fine, they can do that – I just don’t have to listen.
    I would much rather read an interesting, well thought out post that makes me think and/or teaches me something new vs. a sales pitch or hype for a product or service. I choose.
    Businesses think they can hire someone to install a social media element in their PR and increase brand awareness or loyalty and it’s just not that cut and dried.
    People who follow/friend or read are usually already a fan and actively select to know more. The advantage is the chance to have a real dialogue with your customer. Social media can be great at that if you let it.
    I get your points and understand them. Smart marketers are wise not to abuse their audience with self-serving noise when the chance to have a constructive 2 way conversation exists.

  • Hooray – I think the message is finally getting out there. The whole process of promotion is interaction with a level of understanding and care for what is being delivered and identifying with the clients needs.
    The change that is becoming more obvious in the Social Networking environment is that the players are more willing to be identified and accessible. The acknowledgment of the delivery to a listening audience more than just the simple “shout” to the world giving a sense of direction and need satisfaction is becoming paramount.
    The use of twitter, plurk and all of the myriad of available site purely as a broadcast board is allowable – provide you actually participate in that community and add value to it.
    The passer by who believes that the environment is just another place to drop “spam” will soon become a dinosaur, and as we all know, we only find them in museums. I love the perspective of the article.

  • This will be the *problem* for brands that try to engage in social media. They are that guy. It’s in a brand/company’s nature to do all 5 of things that make them “that guy”.

    And yet, if an ad agency (or PR firm) reps a company using social media, doing the other five things costs the company money in billables.

    Meaning, we’re left explaining why the conversation was good for the brand/conversation.

    It’s a kind of conundrum (I love that word). Because your points are well taken.

  • Meredith // @meredithk1981

    Thanks, Shannon! Interesting post and it looks like it has also started a great discussion.

    While I agree with your post, I also agree with @Jonathan Joseph. And @Phyllis – I think a lot of this is still in its “newbie” stage.

    Maybe we just have to keep remembering that it’s all just boiled down to communication. The methods may have shifted, but the fundamentals are all still the same. So if you act online how you would in person, I think you can get by.

  • Interesting article. As someone with nothing to sell (but a blog that I really haven’t promoted yet anyway) and no background in Social Media I often find it a little hard to join the conversation on Twitter purely based on social reasons. But maybe it’s me. I’m kind of paranoid about my lack of Social Media knowledge and mostly read what others write. (I am starting to pick up on the whole thing a bit.) Thanks for the insight.

  • Shannon,interesting post,I like it,God bless you!!!,Thanks.

  • I have to admit when I first started my social media adventures I almost became that guy.

    In my defense – I didn’t know any better. Simply thought this is what social media is and this is how it works. Only through trail and error was I able to go down the “right” path.

    Terrific information here for anyone just stepping into the social media pool. I enjoyed your recovery steps.

    I think people shouldn’t be afraid of becoming “that guy” if they are just learning. Its the ones that know better that should get their hand slapped. When I first started out people were kind enough to point out my missteps – and we can do the same.

    Its really about helping!

  • @DaveMurr I didn’t know any better either. It’s seems to be what’s being taught by #30DC people. I’m not “that guy” yet – only just got started – thanks Shannon for this detailed post… thankfully arriving early in my social networking journey.

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  • Nicholas Butler

    Doesnt it just make you WISH you could have that extra link on twitter that says BLOCK/FOLLOW/GO READ THIS BLOG POST. great post thanks for that. and thanks to Paisano for the retweet.

  • Very nice post.. I hope they are listening.

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  • A great read here, although it did absolutely nothing for my paranoia (!).

    Wise words that i will try to aide by, whilst juggling the full time promotion work. We’ve all got something (/many things) to promote, and have to spend SOME time trying to reach new people, but I am very new to this and weary of treading on toes / social no-noes that i’ve not discovered yet.

    Hopefully this post will help me avoid some mistakes. Much appreciated.

  • Great post! I hope the people who need it read it.

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  • I just read your post and now I’m confused! I’ve been reading a lot about online marketing and SEO for driving traffic over to your site and all of it suggests writing blogs and knowing your keywords to get indexed.

    So, there is a fine line here that one must walk in not being ‘that guy’ but also being ‘that guy’ without people knowing you’re being ‘that guy’.

    I find that if I can help someone with what I’m doing, then I’m not being that guy, I’m just informing them of something that they may not know about. I know I would want one of my friends to tell me about something that they think will help me out, even if it is something that they are pushing.

    Well, either way, at least now I’ll have both sides of the process in my mind as I try to walk that fine line between the two…

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  • You are a rockstar. This post couldn’t be MORE appropriate.

  • This all sounds good except for the part about being “yourself” and talking about personal stuff online. While social networking sites continue to aggressively promote the sharing of all things social, privacy and trust are still relevant issues to those of us with firing synapses.

    It’s not that I have “something to hide” or that I wish to focus exclusively on my business or that I am uptight (among the common – and questionable – admonishments to those of us who defend our right to privacy in a culture of surveillance), it’s that I don’t have the kind of trust settings in my social networks that would inspire me to share, more freely, and naturally, the things I would normally share with friends.

    This just in: you are NOT my friend because we stumble upon each other online and both follow the same people. Neither are you my friend because we happen to enjoy the iphone or any other product. You are not my friend because we have not established the rituals of trust and boundaries normally associated with friendship – nor are these boundaries or rituals present in the social networking tools we are currently using.

    Other people may share everything they wish – including their home address, personal and financial problems and health issues with whomever they wish. But I have chosen not to do so — with strangers.

    Nor am I going to RSS all of this data out into the non regulated, free for all that is the rest of the internet only to find my Twitter feed appear on some obscure dating site in Malaysia. You guys go right ahead.

    I’m going to *share* my life and the things that matter to me with the people I know and trust. People with whom I’ve established real relationships. And I’m not going to broadcast that data so that corporatocracy can sell it to the highest and sleaziest bidder. But you guys can go ahead and do so.

    I still think for myself.

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  • Geez, you’re talking about 90 percent of the social media specialists/experts out there, in particular the PR ones.

    Those that talk the talk just talk. Those that walk the walk have no time to talk.

  • I remember living in the dorms and the only rule we had on our floor at MSU was “don’t be that guy”

    we all knew what it meant. for the most part we all followed it.

  • I came back to this site that I had bookmarked. I agree particularly with #1 specifically now because twitter is ‘nofollow’. Not that spammers really care, or know that, but it does matter.

    People are still real people and the items we work hard to get out there in the real world matter. We work in social circles to help other people, at least I do. It is sad to see that abused.

    Thanks for your down-to-earth article.

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  • Shannon,

    I think the Rotary Four Way Test sums up this post pretty well.

    Of the things we think, say or do

    1. Is it the TRUTH?
    2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
    3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
    4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

    If your comment, blog, tweet, etc meets these 4 criteria then you have nothing to worry about.

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  • Great post. I especially like #5. I get more information and entertainment from re-tweets. I can’t follow everyone so I love it when someone shares something they have found particularly useful.

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  • Nice Posting Guys thanks

  • I admit I’m just learning how to engage a community. I used to know how to do it, when that community was Usenet, but 140 characters means a different society. LOL

    But we need to remember that while engagement will keep us from becoming “that guy,” if we’re not careful we can become “that other guy over there,” who broadcasts all his private one-on-one conversations publicly. Yesterday I was (unhappily) forced to un-follow two very popular, highly-graded “tweeps,” whose tweets were limited to @replies aimed specifically at individuals and impossible for anyone else to understand. That’s like the two people at the party who, surrounded by a large group, talk loudly just to one another and drown out other conversation. It’s sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    And yet, I seldom hear people caution against this. Some even say that @replies is the most reliable way to tell someone on Twitter isn’t selling something. With respect to those who hold that opinion, it’s not only nonsense, it’s dangerous nonsense.

    Anyway, I want to learn how to use @replies well: to engage the whole community while engaging one person.

    • Ron, I think you’ve touched on something that makes it difficult for a lot of people when they first get into Twitter specifically. I’ve gotten used to this sort of thing, but it’s because I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of back and forth with the @replies, too. I even jump into conversations between others. However, just because I’m okay with it doesn’t mean that you need to be okay with it… I’m sure your tolerance for certain things will change over time if you choose to stick it out. Best of luck to you!

  • I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, but part of me feels like some of “those guys” out there are the ones that are new and still learning. Social networking has been around for a lot longer than its been popular, and we still have another 3 or so years before it hits it’s peak, so people are still learning the rules, and what this “social networking thing” is all about. Of course there will always be “that guy,” somebody has to fill the spot.

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  • Kristen Bennett

    I really wanted to express my appreciation for this article–I’m rather a newbie on Twitter and blogs, and I’m very grateful that someone went and sort of set down the many unspoken rules that the more set and founded portion of the community has already accepted. It’s very easy to become “that guy,” particularly when one’s livelihood depends on the distinction between informative and annoying, and I really do just want to says thanks for writing (and righting) the guidelines.

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    [...] thanks for sharing’, then proceed to add 5 lines of bio/site links. Don’t be ‘that guy‘, remember that you aren’t leaving the comment to promote yourself, you are trying to [...]

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    [...] I’ve read dozens of posts in the past few months discussing how companies and brands can build loyalty by “joining the conversation.” Raise your hand if you’ve heard this analogy before: “You don’t want to be the guy at the party who shows up and just starts talking about how great you are.” [...]

  • Woah! I just started getting more serious about social networking, and I could have easily been ‘that guy’. Thanks for the insight. I know I’ll be more comfortable being another guy.

  • Hey! Visit my website to buy some of my cool stuff!!

    Just kidding, I couldn’t help myself.

    Anyway, honestly a great post, and I think I do a pretty good job not being “that guy”.

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